Courts in the Seventh Circuit don’t like to permit parties to file documents under seal. That philosophy is evident in many places, including Seventh Circuit precedent and the local rules for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. A new decision from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin reaffirms that the Circuit’s attitude against sealing is alive and well these days.
The case of Marine Travelift, Inc. v. Marine Lift Systems, Inc. (Case No. 10 C 1046) is ongoing and involves a claim of misappropriation of confidential information and trade secrets in the marine lift industry. As in many cases involving purportedly confidential information and trade secrets, the plaintiff filed a number of motions asking the court for permission to file certain documents under seal. The court, however, apparently grew tired of the plaintiff’s requests. In an order issued on August 13, the Court explained that the plaintiff was requesting to seal documents containing pricing information and two-year old marketing forecasts on the grounds that disclosure of that information would negatively impact its ability to compete in the marketplace. In rejecting those arguments, the Court explained that the pricing information was not confidential because it was disclosed to customers and there was no evidence that those customers were required to keep those prices confidential. Additionally, the Court explained that marketing forecasts from two years ago were stale and the plaintiff failed to demonstrate how it would be damaged by the disclosure of stale information. The Court reiterated the Seventh Circuit’s standard that a party seeking to seal a document must explain how disclosure would cause harm and why that harm warrants secrecy. Absent a thorough and convincing explanation, the Court explained that motions to seal “divert the attention of both the court and the parties from the merits of the case.”
As a result, when asking a Court in the Seventh Circuit to seal a document, best to have and articulate a good reason for that request.